I am a history professor who grew up in Western New York, but now find myself teaching in Western Montana. My primary areas of interest and research are in American cultural history, especially in relation to the intersection of popular culture and politics. This blog is primarily to help me keep in touch with my far-flung family and friends, and give me the chance to spout off a bit on whatever happens to be on my mind.
Dr. John's Record Shelf is my weekly radio program on KDWG, 90.9 FM broadcast from the University of Montana Western. My goal is to offer an eclectic mix of various styles, genres and eras, focusing primarily (but not exclusively) on music that you won't hear anywhere else on the dial (at least not in SW Montana). My co-host, Art Vandelay and I (with the assistance of station flunky Rico Muckman) also provide some additional bits to liven up the show, including Three People I Know (where I mention three people I know), The Cultural Corner (where we engage in lively banter on art, literature and poetry), Dr. John's Top Five (where we take a shot at ranking almost anything), and Record Shelf Theater (where we re-create a scene from some famous movie, play or TV show). If you find yourself in Dillon, tune us in; otherwise, below are some lists of songs that have been aired on recent shows:
Dr. John's Record Shelf 121104
Bill Fay, "This World"
Steve Goodman, "Turnpike Tom"
Ani DiFranco, "Which Side Are You On?"
Bruce Springsteen, "We Are Alive"
Decemberists, "Don't Carry It All"
Carole King, "Pleasant Valley Sunday"
Bruce Cockburn, "Wondering Where the Lions Are"
Neil Young & Crazy Horse, "Oh Susannah"
Bob Dylan, "Soon After Midnight"
Charms, "American Way"
Belle & Sebastian, "I Want the World to Stop"
Krayolas, "Find a Girl"
Beatles, "Tomorrow Never Knows"
Neko Case, "Things That Scare Me"
Avett Brothers, "Will You Return"
Craig Finn, "New Friend Jesus"
Dr. John's Record Shelf 121028
Fleet Foxes, "Helplessness Blues"
Golden Shoulders, "I Will Light You on Fire"
Spoon, "Finer Feelings"
Girls, "Just a Song"
Devandra Banhart, "Shabop Shalom"
Gaslight Anthem, "The '59 Sound"
Those Darlins, "Mystic Mind"
Son Seals, "I Can't Hold Out"
Johnny Ace, "Pledging My Love"
Charlotte Gainsbourg, "Dandelion"
Aimee Mann, "Borrowing Time"
Elliott Smith, "Between the Bars"
Carpenters, "It's Going to Take Some Time"
Hayes Carll, "Girl Downtown"
Fiery Furnaces, "Even in the Rain"
Billy Ward & the Dominoes, "Chicken Blues"
Anna Kramer & the Lost Cause, "You Think You Know Me"
Sophie Zelmani, "Most of the Time"
Dr. John's Record Shelf 121021
Cabaret Voltaire, "No Escape"
Us3, "Cantaloop (Flip Fantasia)"
Hank Mobley, "The Break Through"
Rodriguez, "Sugar Man"
Mary Weiss, "My Heart is Beating"
Pete Shelley, "Think For Yourself"
Buddy Holly, "Take Your Time"
Raincoats, "No One's Little Girl"
Detroit Cobras, "Ya Ya Ya"
Public Image, LTD, "Public Image"
Joan Jett & the Blackhearts, "Bad Reputation"
Love Is All, "Wishing Well"
Louie & the Lovers, "I KNow You Know"
Forty-Fives, "The Devil Beats His Wife"
John P. Strohm, "Better Than Nothing"
The Naysayer, "Currency"
Sir Douglas Quintet, "Who'll Be Next in Line"
The Seeds, "Mr. Farmer"
Dr. John's Record Shelf 121014
TV on the Radio, "Second Song"
Can, "Oh Yeah"
White Stripes, "300 MPH Torrential Downpour Blues"
Mary Lou Lord, "You're Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go"
T-Bone Burnett, "The Murder Weapon"
New Bomb Turks, "Statue of Liberty"
Ramones, "Surfin' Bird"
Paris Sisters, "Dream Lover"
Lee Dorsey, "Ride Your Pony"
Michael Hurley, "Sweet Lucy"
Gary Numan, "Cars"
Neil Diamond, "Delirious Love"
Undertones, "We All Talked About You"
Shadows of Knight, "Shake"
Cub, "Magic 8 Ball"
Rilo Kiley, "The Frug"
Terry Allen, "Lubbock Woman"
Kinks, "Lincoln County"
Dr. John's Record Shelf 121007
Corin Tucker Band, "Summer Jams"
Go-Betweens, "Too Much of One Thing"
Feelies, "Change Your Mind"
Billy Bragg & the Blokes, "Baby Faroukh"
Marcia Griffiths, "Don't Let Me Down"
Velvet Crush, "Hold Me Up"
Chris Mills, "Calling All Comrades"
Insect Trust, "Hoboken Saturday Night"
Broken West, "So It Goes"
REM, "Exhuming McCarthy"
Dire Straits, "Twisting By the Pool"
Tom Rush, "Urge for Going"
Paul Westerberg & Joan Jett, "Let's Do It"
Fred Astaire, "Cheek to Cheek"
The Who, "I Can See For Miles"
Liz Phair, "Uncle Alvarez"
Steve martin & the Steep Canyon Rangers, "King Tut"
Let's see if we can't get the weekly quiz rolling again with this (I think) easy question: who is sitting to Nick's right (your left) in the above picture? A tiny portion of said individual is visible if you look hard enough. Put your guesses in the comments section and (with a little luck) we'll announce the winner next week. Good luck!
Ben and I stopped in at a local eatery last week while Christmas shopping, and they had a lunch buffet of salad, pizza and soup which we both decided to have. The pizza was pretty good (they had a nice Buffalo Chicken variety with blue cheese in the mix), and the salad bar offered a nice variety of veggies and toppings, so no complaint there. Since it was Friday, one of the soup options was New England Clam Chowder, which I avoid as a rule, which left me with the second, unmarked choice. I mention that it was unmarked, because frankly, I still don't know what exactly it was. It was evidently something vegetarian, as I detected no sign of beef, chicken or any other kind of meat. I guess it could have just been Vegetable, but it wasn't like any other straight vegetable soup I've ever had, including as it did beans and okra. The latter made me think it was some kind og gumbo, but doesn't gumbo automatically have meat? It was an Italian restaurant, so maybe it was a variation on minestrone, but there did not appear to be any beans (don't let the stock picture above fool you). Whatever it was, it was suitably hot and wet, and the ingredients were not overcooked, so it satisfied. I'd sure like to know what it was though. Next time I'll have to ask the waitress.
I like how this portrait of Helen turned out, all hazy and ethereal. It's the result of a quick double-exposure where the second image was totally out of focus, creating the glowing "aura" effect. I'm looking forward to experimenting some more with that technique in the future.
Today's line is from the eminent American physicist Richard Feynman (1918-1988):
"We are at the very beginning of time for the human race. It is not unreasonable that we grapple with problems. But there are tens of thousands of years in the future. Our responsibility is to do what we can, learn what we can, improve the solutions, and pass them on."
Paul Rhymer (mentioned in my previous post) was the creator of one of the greatest examples of mass media Americana ever concocted: radio's Vic and Sade. Here's an example of his work, an episode from 1941. Enjoy:
Fontaine Fox, creator of Toonerville Folks, was a comic genius on a par with Paul Rhymer, creator of radio's Vic and Sade, as a chronicler of American small-time life in the years prior to World War II. Here are two more examples of the former's work.
Some questions that popped into my head while watching Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol (directed by Brad Bird) the other night-- which isn't really meant to imply I care much about the answers: 1. Is Tom Cruise getting a little old for this action hero stuff? He looked a little flabby to me in several scenes. Maybe its time for a desk job. 2. Was Dubai built to serve as a movie set? It certainly makes for great aerial shots, but does anything actually happen there aside from convoluted spy games? 3. Is it possible that Simon Pegg is funnier than Ricky Gervais? Or just a modern day Nigel Bruce? 4. Why would you put Tom Wilkinson in a movie for all of about three minutes? I know any longer would have had him acting Cruise off the screen, but really-- couldn't his essentially thankless role have been just as efficiently handled by someone who would not have raised my hopes that the film was about to get a lot better? 5. By the same token, why give us a single shot of Michelle Monaghan? Couldn't they have squeezed her into a flashback or something? What a tease. 6. Wasn't it really stretching the bounds of credibility to have Tom Cruise out-run, then out-fought by a guy who was clearly ten to fifteen years his senior (in the plot), not to mention a diplomat? 7. Didn't "Ghost Protocol" refer to the fact that the MI team was cut off from official support and supplies? Then where did the car in the climactic chase scene come from? 8. Could there have been a more obvious fate than that which befell the female assassin? You could see it coming from a mile away. If any of these queries make you apprehensive about the quality of this movie, you might want to avoid it. If you really don't care (and in the end, I sure don't), then you might enjoy it for the escapist fare it is.
Everybody should feed their creative side at every opportunity. Don't believe me? Then how about the great painter (and teacher) Robert Henri (1865-1929):
"When the artist is alive in any person... he becomes an inventive, searching, daring, self-expressing creature. He becomes interesting to other people. He disturbs, upsets, enlightens, and he opens ways for better understanding."
Here's another group that I don't recall hearing of before they started popping up on some year-end "best-of" lists-- the Gold-Bears. The video portion of this clip is a bit odd, but the song really rocks:
I spent much of the day at the Albright-Knox and Burchfield-Penney Art Galleries today, with Sally and Ben. Both places had up some fine exhibits, and I had fun taking pictures of folks checking them out. A special treat was the return of R.B. Kitaj's Walter Lippmann (seen above), which is one of my favorite paintings though I bet it's been twenty years since I've seen it hanging at the Albright-Knox.
The Albright-Knox is currently featuring a lot of the most famous works in its collection, along with correspondence associated with their acquisition. If anyone ever needed proof of how substantial their holdings are, especially in modern art-- and especially post World War II modern art-- now is the time to check the place out. Doesn't this guy look a bit like actor John Turturro?
I thought I had missed Alberto Giacometti's Walking Man until I spotted it hiding behind the pillar in this shot (when Ben mentioned it while we were there, I half thought he was imagining things).
These last two photos are from the Burchfield-Penney, which always has something interesting on display. The current exhibits focus mostly on sculpture (though as always, there is plenty more to see including a set of Charles Burchfield paintings and drawings emphasizing weather and some really fine landscapes-- urban and rural-- by western New York painters).
The Rosieks gave me a membership in the Albright-Knox as a Christmas present (and through reciprocol deals, gives me a pass to the Burchfield-Penney and a bunch of other galleries around the state as well), so I'll probably be going back a few more times while I'm in town (mainly to take more pictures).
Something to think about from filmmaker and actor Orson Welles (1915-1985):
“You know from past experiences that whenever you have been driven to the wall, or thought you were, you have extricated yourself in a way which you never would have dreamed possible had you not been put to the test. The trouble is that in your everyday life you don't go deep enough to tap the divine mind within you.”
Magnet magazine (back among the living with a recently revived print edition!), named the album off which this song is taken as its record of the year for 2011. I'd never heard of the band-- Yuck-- before, but this is a pretty cool sound. I'm looking forward to checking out the full album:
So, last week in Bozeman, my friend Bill and I stopped at a local brew pub for dinner. This is one of those places that defines the Bozeman experience-- kind of self-consciously western while also upscale (catering to trust fund ski bums and Omega style frat boys). The place was quite busy, and service was a bit slow, but after our meal, I dutifully paid the bill by leaving sufficient cash in the little folder containing our ticket. We waited awhile for the waiter to come and collect the bill, but when it appeared he had little intention to do so, we got up to go, just leaving the check and money on the table. It's a fairly big place, and we were seated way over on the far side away from the door, so it took a few minutes to depart. We strolled out to our car, and slowly began to negotiate our way out of the parking lot when Bill noticed a waiter running after us, trying to flag us down. I stopped the car and rolled down the window. The waiter caught up to us, angrily waving a folder like the one we'd left on the table. I wondered what we were going to be accused of (knowing we covered the bill with a more than sufficient tip). But when he got a good look at us, he admitted "Oh, you aren't the guys who stiffed me." I felt a little sorry for the guy, but I also remembered that our waiter didn't exactly give much attention to us during our visit, and maybe that was a staff hallmark. Anyway, we drove off as he continued his likely futile search for the dashers. Oh yeah-- I had the French Onion soup, which was okay, if a bit sweet and somewhat overpriced.
Leave us hope that the implicit lesson in this quote from historian Michael Kammen is taken to heart by more folks involved in some way with our current political debates:
"The Civil War divided a nation, whereas the American Revolution created and unified it. The Civil War exposed our vilest flaws, whereas the Revolution shaped our character and (we generally assumed) displayed our courage, principles, and highmindedness for all the world to see. What happened in 1776 somehow reflected glory upon us, whereas what happened in 1861, when the polity disintegrated, became an object lesson in the perils of extremism and selfishness."
Almost certainly the most popular record around my house as a kid during the holidays was Ed Ames' Christmas album, which I recall listening to as we decorated our tree. I can't speak for the rest of the family, but I liked it mainly because Ed Ames played Mingo on Daniel Boone (my favorite TV show). Here's one of the memorable songs from that collection:
It's late, and I'm tired, and not many people have played the last couple of weeks. So I'm just going to give you the answers from the last two quizzes and otherwise take a holiday break this week (don't you all feel relieved?). Last week, the people cropped out of the photo of Gramma, Sally and Ann-Marie were Dad, Aunt Helen and Uncle Dick. Two weeks ago, the baby's eyes belonged to Emma (and I thought that was a gimme!). Look for a new question, and a fresh start for everyone (there hasn't been a winner in almost a month!) next Friday.
This picture of Helen was taken on a very special day about a year and a half ago-- her graduation from Pre-K. I expect to see that smile (and hats even sillier than the alligator lid sported above) at a few more similar ceremonies over the next fifteen years or so.
A nice seasonal message from the poet John Greenleaf Whittier (1807-1892):
"Somehow, not only for Christmas But all the long year through, The joy that you give to others Is the joy that comes back to you. And the more you spend in blessing The poor and lonely and sad, The more of your hearts possessing Returns to you glad."
I somehow missed the broadcast of Charlie Brown's Christmas this year-- I like to catch the actual TV showing as it kind of reminds me of waiting for it to come on every year back when I was a youngster (before the whole concept of "on demand" came about). Anyway, here are some selected scenes set to one of the performances from Vince Guaraldi's soundtrack:
Congratulations to my niece Natalie for making it through her seventeenth year (we're a little short of candles on that cake though) and also for passing her driving test and getting her license-- hooray! Sorry I didn't quite make it to help you celebrate, but I'll do my best to make it up to you over the next couple of weeks.
Back in the '80s I worked part time in a big record store. One day an older gentlemen came back to the tape desk where I was working and told me he was was tired of listening to the same old stuff all the time and asked if I could recommend something new in the blues. I asked if he knew Son Seals, and he said no. So I told him that he was a great guitar player in the B.B. King/Otis Rush mold, and he selected one of the cassettes we had. He was back an hour later and bought all the other Seals titles we carried (there were maybe two others). Without a doubt, that was the most successful recommendation I ever made-- it's very gratifying to turn someone on to something new. Maybe this clip will have the same effect on some of you:
I wish there was a clip of the Soft Boys performing this number, but the recording is just fine by itself. I don't understand why great songs like this aren't staples on classic rock radio stations-- this is better than anything I've ever heard by Led Zeppelin or Pink Floyd:
Maybe its a pointless exercise to extract the color from shots of sunny Southern California, but I wanted to see how these would look, and I think they turned out okay (good enough to share). The first above was taken while driving south on Robertson Drive (or maybe Doheny). The palms make for a nice twist on the traditional "tree-lined" street.
These bells hang inside a wall partially enclosing a small courtyard in the mission complex at San Juan Capistrano.
Santa Monica beach is one of my favorite spots for picture taking. You've got surfers, birds, an amusement park, interesting architecture above the beach... I totally understand how someone could become a beach bum.
This last shot is from the gardens surrounding the Getty Institute which is just up the coast from Santa Monica. It's a great museum on beautiful grounds. I'm really happy with the way this picture turned out.
Thinking of recent American history, I can't help but think that Henry Louis Mencken (1880-1856) was on to something with this observation:
"Civilization, in fact, grows more and more maudlin and hysterical; especially under democracy it tends to degenerate into a mere combat of crazes; the whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by an endless series of hobgoblins, most of them imaginary."
I wonder if there's any chance that Patti Smith could be convinced to record the entire rock and roll songbook-- all the classics from the beginning. I have a feeling she'd knock them all out of the park, as she does this Stones nugget:
In his most recent column, Hal Crowther discusses the Occupy movement, the corporate takeover of our nation, and the likely effects of overly zealous efforts to suppress the former. I think it's worth a read.
An insightful comment from the French author Marie-Henri Beyle (1783-1842), better known as Stendhal:
"Almost all our misfortunes in life come from the wrong notions we have about the things that happen to us. To know men thoroughly, to judge events sanely, is, therefore, a great step towards happiness."
Sharleen Spiteri and her band Texas? They were really big in England back in the nineties, but never really broke through in the US (although I always thought Sharleen was kind of a British burnette version of Debbie Harry, which in itself should've been a huge leg up). Anyway, here's one of my favorite songs by the group:
This picture portrays my Gramma, my sister Sally, and my cousin Ann Marie. But in the original shot, there are three other people in the frame. Who did I cut out? Put your guesses in the comments section (and given recent difficulties of quiz participants, I may give it to the first to name two of the three).
Last week I asked you to identify some baby eyes, and for the second week in a row, there were no correct answers. But rather than declare victory on my part, I'll keep the contest open for another week-- so feel free to take another shot at that one too, by following the above link.
A couple of days ago I posted the above screen shot from an episode of the 1970s TV show Room 222, and speculated on where it was I'd seen that font before. The post prompted some feedback, including a note from FOB (Friend of the Blog) "e" linking to a YouTube clip of the end credits of the classic Gilligan's Island. I spent several hours peering intently at every matching letter between the two data sets, and ultimately realized it was a waste of time trying to find any difference (although I'm still not sure the R's are identical). They are, for all intents and purposes, the same font, and I'm willing to concede that a memory of the latter is deeply embedded in my unconscious from endless repeat viewings of Gilligan's hijinks over the years. However, I was still a little curious. The fact is that, while I was exposed to numerous reruns of the program in the past, it's probably going on twenty years since I last watched the show. So I wondered if there wasn't a more recent match that was setting off my radar. I decided to investigate further, and began pumping names of programs into the YouTube search engine. I started with the shows that I had first considered: M*A*S*H, The Odd Couple, and Barney Miller; sure enough, there was a hit:
That's a screen-capture from the closing credits to Barney Miller. So now, I started wondering just how ubiquitous this particular font was, so I started to barnstorm. I looked at credits from The Partridge Family, The Brady Bunch, Welcome Back Kotter (suggested by my sister Theresa), Nanny and the Professor, The Governor and JJ, and a bunch of others. I mostly focused on shows from the ABC network, since that's where Room 222 and Barney Miller were broadcast, and especially Friday night shows, since that's when they aired. No other hits, but I wasn't convinced I'd gotten to the bottom of the issue since, although I've seen it more recently than Gilligan's Island, it still had been years since I've watched Barney Miller. And then, it hit me:
Earlier this Fall, my morning exercise routine was accompanied by viewing the first season of My Three Sons. I popped in one of those discs, and there it was in the end credits-- the exact same font as that used in Room 222. That almost certainly was why it looked so familiar: I'd seen it every day for the four or five weeks it took me to go through the season's episodes, and just a few weeks before I moved on to the other show. In another interesting fluke, although My Three Sons appeared for most of its long run (about twelve years or so) on CBS, it actually started out as an ABC show, just like Room 222 and Barney Miller (though Gilligan was a CBS program). I don't know what this all means, but I can assure you that getting to the bottom of this little mystery has definitely taken a load off my mind.